by Jeff Cruz
100 Years 100 Faces of the Stampede was a ten-day journey in the summer of 2012 to find 100 interesting faces on the Calgary Stampede grounds during the Stampede’s centennial year. Combining street photography and studio portraiture techniques, Jeff Cruz created compelling black-and-white portraits of 100 strangers who had gathered to celebrate western culture at the Calgary Stampede. He is also one of the winners of The World Live In 2012 photo contest.
Being a photographer for a living can sometimes put you in a creative rut. Working on personal projects is something I like to do to stay motivated and to keep the passion for my craft alive. The 100 Years 100 Faces project came to me one morning as I was reminiscing about being in Missoula, Montana last year for a photography workshop with Zack Arias. I admire Zack Arias and I owe a lot of my knowledge about portraiture to him. One of the many exercises he put us through was to approach random people off the street and create a portrait of them. I thought of how many interesting people with interesting faces would be walking the Calgary Stampede grounds. The Stampede centennial came to mind and then it hit me. I could do a project depicting the diverse culture that comes together every year to celebrate as one. Over the 10-day event I would have to average over 10 portraits a day. Was it something I could accomplish both mentally and physically? I was about to find out.
The first full day of the Stampede was Friday July 6 and it was a nice warm day. Because I wanted nice even light I decided to find my faces in the afternoon shade and quickly dove into the project. To keep the images consistent I armed myself with just one lens, a Nikon 50 mm f/1.4D, to create a shallow depth of field, and a small, portable stool for people to sit on. I set out finding my first model. It was a difficult start. The first few times I wanted to approach someone I backed down and kept walking. Then, suddenly, my training came in handy. I decided to warm up first and be as comfortable as possible, much like training wheels. I looked for someone easy to approach to get my confidence going. Suddenly I spotted an old acquaintance from school. He appeared out of nowhere holding some toys he had won from the midway. I photographed him and was able to shake off the cobwebs that were holding me back. From there on each person was easier and easier to approach. It became second nature.
A father and son I photographed told me a story about how their great, great, grandfather had died in the Dominion Exhibition parade, which was the previous name of the Stampede Parade. I heard stories about families fleeing their native countries to avoid persecution. One person told me about how they have never missed a Calgary stampede in over 30 years. I met a few people experiencing the Stampede for the first time. Over the 10-day festival I found 117 people who agreed to pose for me. The more stories I heard the more I realized we aren’t so much different from each other. Our faces are different but when we peel back the layers we are all just searching for something similar in all of us. One question I asked everyone was, “what is your favourite part of the Stampede?” The quick answers were comments on the rides, food, rodeo and the chuck wagon races. However, what I discovered over the ten-day festival photographing over a hundred faces is that we go to the Stampede, mostly, to be with each other. Click here to view complete photo essay.
Jeff Cruz is an award-winning commercial and fine-art photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. Mainly self-taught, Jeff’s interest in photography started as a child when he ordered his first camera, a 35-mm toy camera. His love for cinema as well as paintings from the Surrealism movement inspires him to create imagery that break away from traditional landscape photography. His limited-edition prints can be viewed and purchased on his website: jcruzfineart.com.